Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Melancholic Troglodytes on Star Trek, Dune, Capitalism and War

A couple of sci-fi infused critiques of capitalism and war from Melancholic Troglodytes from the early 21st century.

'Neither Species 8472 nor the Borg: No war but the class war' (2001) uses Star Trek as a framework to understand the impending conflict between the US (the Borg) and the Taleban (Species 8472):

'The Borg's diplomatic panache  seems to have been pirated by the US Bourgeoisie. American military radio broadcasts to the Taleban carry an ominous message of doom and assimilation: “You will be attacked by land, sea and air...Resistance is futile”! The Taleban (species 8472), for their part, are quite oblivious to the tractor beams and photonic charges of their nemesis. Their mastery of fluidic space has conditioned them to thinking of themselves as pure, superior and invincible. Even as the bombs rain down on them, the Taleban insist on viewing the Borg as decrepit and decadent, hence their battle cry: “The weak will perish”!'

Full text at Internet Archive

No blood for spice melange

'God Emperors of Dune' (2003) switches to the Duniverse in the lead up to the Iraq War, with the war for oil now being fought over 'Spice melange: The second most precious commodity in the known universe (after labour power)'...  'Paul recounted the efforts of House Atreides to counteract the falling tendency of the rate of profit. His father the Duke had increased the mass of surplus value by raising the intensity and duration of the working day and at the same time decreased the mass of variable capital by depressing wages and expanding foreign trade. Paul would continue this good work by decreasing the mass of constant capital through raising the productivity of labour in the capital goods industry (Caffentzis, op cit.) and by launching the holy Zensunni Jihad. The Jihad, in particular, would catalyse innovation in technology and open up new areas for profitable capital investment.'

Will the proletarian Freman upset the schemes of the rival houses? 'There was only one force they had not reckoned with and that was the mysterious Fremen. Intelligence could not predict their behaviour, although recent reports of Fremen children chanting, ‘No war but the class war’ were ominous. They seemed impervious to both Imperial Conditioning and the Great Voice. How do you control slaves that you rely on for profit? For as the orientalist Nietzsche once said: ‘There is nothing more terrible than a class of  barbaric slaves who have learned to regard their existence as an injustice and now prepare to avenge, not only themselves, but all generations'

Full text at Internet Archive

See also from Melancholic Troglodytes: Star Trek: Towards a Historical Materialist Critique

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Cavern Club 1963 : an 'alternative to this world'?

Interesting article from Peace News, 20 December 1963 in which Richard Mabey writes of his visit to the Cavern Club in Liverpool and reflects on its then newly famous sons, The Beatles. Mabey of course is now well-known as a writer on nature. You can read the full article here.

Twist and Shout

'[...] In the Cavern Club, the heart of the Liverpool beat music scene, the first and inescapable impression is that the whole thing is fun. The groups, some of whom play themselves out in this stifling tunnel-like cellar for expenses only, really enjoy it. Most of the numbers they play are requests from the girls in the audience, an audience they dance amongst during the intervals, and which loves their noise, horseplay and histrionic Northern humour. There’s none of the phoniness and self-pity that used to characterise so much pop music, when hip-wiggling, lamé jackets and the lonely boy in the lonely spotlight were the things that used to fetch in the screams.

The audience in the Cavern seems to be almost completely classless, not only in social terms, but also in terms of the trends and sects which the teenagers set up themselves. Mods (those who assiduously follow the very latest crazes in fashion and jargon) and rockers (who normally stick to leather jacket and jean gear) mix with an ease that would start a certain riot in almost any dance hall south of Luton. The only types missing are the more vicious yobs that usually turn up at Saturday night dances with the sole intention of starting a fight, and the floppy-sweatered traditional jazz addicts. Most are dressed in the smartly eccentric mixture of Italian and beatnik styles that has become the uniform of beat music followers; denim shirts with very high or button-down collars, knitted ties, collarless jackets, tight trousers that run dead straight from hip to ankle (sometimes flaring at the bottom), and of course those great fluffy piles of brushed-forward hair. The girls conform less to their pattern, which, when it appears, is long skirts that reach to below the knee, short-sleeved jumpers, fiat heeled shoes, and sometimes French jockey caps.

The Cavern can cram about 700 of these devotees into a space not much bigger than a couple of nissen huts, and consequently ordinary movement is a real accomplishment. Which probably accounts for the new dance - in different towns I've heard it called the Shake, the Blues, the Noddy and the Twitch - that has come in with this music. In it the kids stand quite still on the floor, but shake every other part of their bodies bodies like manic clockwork toys. Dour commentators from the Guardian and New Statesman have just shaken their heads, and have read into the expressionless faces of the dancers signs of incipient Fascism and  'wilfully created vacuity'. Perhaps if they tried it themselves they would find that it is as all popular dance should be, totally physically involving, making facial expression superfluous.

[...]The Beatles are avowedly non-political. But their music, and the craze that they have started, is blatantly subversive. On the surface it is brash, and by our conventional standards, uncivilised. But it revels in gaiety and abandon. If the Beatle people have rejected the drab world of adult responsibility and obscure political squabblings, it is because they have formed for themselves - in the dance halls, at parties and even just singing in the streets - a revolutionary alternative to this world. If they can find laughter and enthusiasm on their own, even for just one evening a week, then the efforts of the politicians become irrelevant.

Pop music stands or falls by the degree to which it is wild, loud and exciting. Critics who are obsessed with banality, materialism and selfishness in the words of the songs, have completely misunderstood the level at which  young people accept them. With what seems to be irrefutable logic, teenagers will argue that if you want sophisticated orchestration or serious words, go listen to classical or folk music. Leave pop to its proper province, the stomach'. 

Mabey's reference to the dour commentators of the New Statesman was a response to 'Scouse: The brutal reality of Liverpool in the early 1960s' by John Morgan, published in New Statesman on 1 July 1963. Morgan also visited the Cavern but was horrified by what he saw:

'The violence lies in the stunning volume of sound, in the incoherence of the dance, and in the wilfully created vacuity of facial and verbal expression. The darkness is almost total. A faint red light plays over the heads of dancers at one end of the smoky, airless room, but three arches further along it dissipates. So tightly are the boys and girls packed together, 750 of them at 4s. 6d. a ticket, that there is no room to dance anything but the Cavern Shake. Ideally, to judge from the techniques of those girls in leather gear – the height of fab – the neck is held rigid while the head moves quickly and tensely from side to side. The arms jerk, puppet-like. The zombie effect, the acute nervous condition, is enhanced by the look on the face. This is not ecstatic, but empty. Vacuity is more than make-up or a mannerism – it is a philosophy. Sweat pours from walls and faces. To force your way from one end of the narrow cellar to the other, pummelled by elbows, breasts and twitching knees, is one of the more nightmarish of current experiences. I suppose I’ve been going to jazz clubs for 15 years and I’ve seen nothing which compares for noise, discomfort or hysteria. On stage all the while, the young men (I never saw the Mersey Birds) play their electronic machines and shout like mad, some for little money, some for none, praying that they can follow the other Mersey groups, like the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, into the fortune of the charts'.

(interesting this condescending meme of 'vacuity' in sub cultural writing, to be defiantly thrown back by the self defined pretty vacant punks of the next generation) 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Coventry Working Men's Club 'Colour Bar' (1971)

An everyday tale of 1970s racism in England involving the Barras Heath Working Men's Club in Coventry and its efforts to keep out black people. The Race Relations Act 1965 may have banned discrimination in public places but there was an ambiguity about the status of members clubs - were they private spaces and therefore not subject to this law, or in providing for the public were they prohibited from discrimination? This played out in a number of court cases and local disputes in the 1960s and 70s. In the Coventry case, the local Community Relations Officer made a complaint about the club in 1970 after it advertised that a dance would be subject to 'house rules' that were understood to include 'a clause forbidding citizens entry on grounds of colour'.

In the following year a group of young people from the local Methodist Central Hall discotheque club picketed the club after one of their members - 'A 20 year old Indian youth' - was refused a drink in the working men's club. According to their leaflet, 'The club uses coloured men to help build its extension yet it will not allow them inside when the job is done. An Indian member of our group worked at the club as an electrician but when he came back in the evening he was refused a drink'.  

A few weeks later it was reported that 'Members of a Coventry church discotheque club are taking their campaign against racial discrimination to the Home Secretary Reginald Maudling'. They argued that the existing law 'left a loophole for clubs such as these to continue to discriminate on racial grounds' and that 'it should be against the law of this country for any club of whatever sort to so discriminate' (Coventry Evening Telegraph, 18 August 1971).

Five years later though the club was still 'notorious for its racialism' according to a report in Workers Action, refusing to 'book any black artists' or allow 'membership or entrance to blacks'. Seemingly they must have slipped up in their bookings 'and one night a black member of Equity turned up at the Barras Heath - and was turned away'. Equity, the actors' union, then called for its members to boycott the club and for a picket involving '100 local trade unionists' which performers refused to cross.


This case was by no means unique. As Camilla Schofield has described 'While the working men’s club now looks like a vestigial social institution of by-gone days, it was at its high-water mark in the 1970s with over 3.5 million members of the CIU [Club and Institute Union, the umbrella body for working men's clubs]: CIU numbers were never as high before nor since. In some towns and cities, particularly in the industrial north, working men's clubs were regarded as the centre of social life, the beating heart of labourism. In County Durham, ‘To exclude coloured people would be to institute apartheid’, wrote a club member in a letter to the Daily Telegraph. Yet in some towns and cities, even in highly diverse areas, clubs held long-standing explicit or unwritten whites-only policies—or ‘some form of colour bar’'. Schofield suggests that 'white solidarity and exclusion' in such clubs was a factor in the construction of an image of the working class as white, male and industrial - an image bought into this day by parts of the left as well as the right. Easy to romanticise  this past, but large parts of the working class, including women and black people, were never invited to the party. See 'In Defence of White Freedom: Working Men’s Clubs and the Politics of Sociability in Late Industrial England',  Twentieth Century British History, Volume 34, Issue 3, September 2023.

Friday, February 09, 2024

1995 London Clubs

From the 'Capital Guide: London for Londoners' (Boxtree publications, 1995), published in association with the London Transport Museum, Elaine Gallagher writes a guide to London clubs. Quite a few of those mentioned sometime haunts of mine at one time or other.

Flipside at Iceni in White Horse Street W1 was very much on an acid jazz tip when I went there in 1993, with Young Disciples DJs.  Were there 'board games and a chill out area complete with tarot reader'? Well yes I recorded in my diary that there was Risk and Buckeroo, but missed the tarot.

I loved the Leisure Lounge in Holborn, promoted by Sean McClusky, 'a converted former snooker hall, now boasting 2 dance floors' and according to this 'offers raucous punk, funk,  and hip hop for fashion victims with lots of fun fur and blue hair'.  Second half of sentence vaguely correct, though more fashion slayers than victims. But the music when I went was always house, house and a bit more house.

McClusky also promoted Club UK (which I've written about before) and fellow South London club Minstry of Sound inevitably gets a mention. Turnmills in Farringdon obviously a legendary 90s venue, mainly went to Gallery on Fridays, also Eurobeat 2000 but famous for gay nights FF and Trade.

Mambo Inn at Loughborough Hotel in Brixton  - 'world music with a little lambada and merengue thrown in', not to mention African sounds - was a big night for me a few years before.

Subterania, under the Westway in Ladbroke Grove. Never went clubbing there as such, but did see Lush and The Chills (from New Zealand) at an indie gig which google shows me was on October 11 1989. Once went to the Tearooms des Artistes in Wandsworth, ambient vibes.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Jeremy: a London gay magazine features skinheads (1970)

The fantastic Bishopsgate Institute LGBTQ+ archive has digitised issues of Jeremy, a London-based gay lifestyle magazine from the late 1960s and early 1970s.  A 1970 issue includes 'A lingering look at skinheads' (vol.1, number 8).

'The 'in' music is Reggae and Blue Beat - energetic and uniform, almost monotonous - and the dance steps are simple and regular. The complications of progressive pop and all the with-itness of that world "pisses them off" and can lead to aggro. Big dance halls, like Mecca and Top Rank, are skinhead palaces'

Jeremy included a 'Gay Guide' to London clubs in a period when gay clubs had to be discrete and generally members only.  This issue from 1970 mentions The Toucan in Gerrard Street and The Masquerade and The Boltons in Earls Court the latter's regulars 'a pretty mixed bunch, some stunning, some just stunningly weird, some in semi-drag, some just a drag, but all full of shrill bounce and life'.

Intriguingly The Union Tavern is Camberwell New Road is also mentioned with drag nights three times a week plus 'Reggae (skinhead night)' on Tuesday. Doubt if this was a specifically gay skinhead night, but there was obviously a crossover with the gay scene. The skinhead article describes skins' enthusiasms as 'football, clothes, girls (not always) and music'

The skinhead photoshoot includes one shot taken outside the Union Tavern and the Jeremy Gala at Kensington Town Hall in September 1970 included a discotheque with the DJ  Mickey 'The skinhead from last month's Jeremy'. So can only assume as well Mickey was also DJ at the Union Tavern  skinhead night.

(outside the Union Tavern - I used to drink there and recognise its distinctive frontage)

[When I was at school the term  'Jeremy' was used as a homophobic slur - 'a bit of a Jeremy' etc - which I assumed was related to the Jeremy Thorpe scandal in the 1970s (Liberal MP accused of plotting to have an ex-lover killed). But was the term in circulation before that, associated with the magazine?]

The Union Tavern is now the Golden Goose theatre. The Union Place Resource Centre - a radical community printshop - was a couple of doors down, and I drank in the Tavern after popping down there sometimes. I remember one night meeting veteran council communist Joe Thomas in there, as he died in 1990 I think this must have been in 1988/9.